Film & TV

Stretching Your Budget

Mira Nair

Lesson time 19:17 min

Never reveal your struggle. Mira teaches you how to maximize your resources as an independent filmmaker—however limited they may be.

Mira Nair
Teaches Independent Filmmaking
The Oscar-nominated director teaches her methods for directing powerful performances, maximizing budgets, and bringing authentic stories to life.
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In the beginning, I didn't have producers. I was my own producer, and I had to cut my cloth to size literally from the word go, you know. And I still do that in different ways and in different scale. When I'm budgeting the picture, I'm seeing what costs what, you know, how I have to cut corners as we always have to, you know, whether it's in shooting days or it's in locations. I then decide that I'm not going to let people see my struggle with money. I'm never going to apologize for the quality of my work. I am going to just cut my cloth in a very interesting way to size. So I'm looking at the screenplay and I'm thinking, OK, we have three big action sequences, or three set pieces as they are often known. And how can I do that justice in every comprehensive way so that you will never think that I am a struggling, apologizing independent filmmaker? You know, because I also grew up in a time in India when technical things for films were much less sophisticated, and the films, if they emerged out of the country at all, really looked, you know, that lousy third world feeling, in the sense that, you know, they just did not meet-- now it's a very different vibe in India. Technically, we have the labs. We have incredible resources like any other place in the world. But in the beginning, we always identified an Indian film in some way by its lack of technical prowess, and I never wanted to be in that category. So that even in "Salaam Bombay!" when I may not have had money to do post-production, I would choose to use all the money in how to shoot it correctly, how to use 35 millimeter, how to light it, how to diffuse it, how to do all of that, so that people would not know my struggle. There is nothing more valuable than prep for a film. Prep in every department, not just rehearsing actors, but really designing a scene, designing a shot, designing a complete sequence. There is never any substitute for the prep one needs, and that, also, it's cheap time. I have this phrase, you know, it's cheap time. We can afford to really sit there and put our heads to it, and think in ink, as a friend of mine said, you know. Really do the prep so that we know how to maximize-- that's another favorite word of mine-- how to maximize the moment of shooting, how to maximize the scene, you know. So another trick I have is to create a bank of imagery, you know, because for me, I'm always thinking of how to create time passage, how to create interludes, how to create music sequences, and I'm very visually attuned. So, and I also work with extraordinarily talented cinematographers who teach me really, sometimes, how to see, or who really grasp what excites me about the extraordinariness of ordinary life, you know. So whatever people are doing, whatever they are shooting, my two cinematographers or one, if something else happens on the side that is beautiful, you know, a bird could land on a telephone wire, right by you as you're shooting, you know, a...

Harness the power of your roots

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mira Nair approaches directing with the “heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant,” spurred by rejection and fighting to bring uncompromising stories to film. In the Golden Lion-winning director’s MasterClass, learn to make a big impact on a small budget in film production, evoke the best from actors and nonactors, and protect your creative vision so you tell the story that can only come from you.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

THANK YOU MIRA, you just introduced me to a director I was unfamiliar with but I'm now totally in love with.

Please also talk about fund raising, and distribution ... Thanks Very good masterclass btw.

I learned a lot of about Mira Nair's culture alongside the fundamentals of making film on a low budget.

This is the eighth masterclass I have taken and it is by far my favorite so far. Mira is truly an inspiring filmmaker who's own triumphs and challenges showcase the beauty in her art! It was a privilege to "sit at her feet" and learn. I will be returning to this class multiple times in the future and hope to one day meet her and express how meaningful this was to me! THANK YOU MIRA!!


Iolani G.

Incredible. So much helpful useful wisdom. I am so grateful!!! Thank you Mira!! You are amazing! Much Love, 'Iolani Grace


The other lessons really felt like they were for beginners starting more from scratch than I am. This one, in my opinion, is incredibly helpful to all. Little reminders like capturing that B-Roll, maximizing your most important scenes to minimize how much people notice you don't have a big budget, working as a team to bring up the production value. That is all really important.

Tony C.

Very real, pragmatic and extremely clever person, with what appears to be a naughty side. How appealing. Somebody could make a film on her life.


I like the idea of doing things as efficiently as possible to save time and money during post production. For me, however, that is like saying, write well so you don't have to rewrite. I have never been able to read through a script without having to rewrite. The same would probably be true in this case, as well.


This is, hands down, the scariest part. This and property rights. It would be nice it you could get funds without having to beg or if you can tell your story without stepping on toes.

Ify M.

Amazing! This lesson is everything. Very practical for those on a budget. Thank you Mira for this great lesson.

Franco E.

This is exactly why I was so looking forward to Mira's class. Her experience and insight into getting a film made with less without losing quality is invaluable. There's so much information here. Love it. Lots to learn and apply. Thank you Mira!

Partha B.

This lesson is absolutely brilliant -- especially about the ways she used small budgets for big frames, her big-name casts (such as Naseeruddin Shah), how to take advantage of the Ganapati procession in Bombay, shooting the rain from the window of a brothel, and finally, how to overcome disasters such as film stock destroyed by the X-ray machine. The more I think, and as familiar as I am with Mira's style, I am being more convinced now than ever before that Hollywood-style big, grandiose movies can only go so far. Rather, an intimate, artistic description of a "small frame" is so much more impactful. With the breaking down of the society because of so many crises and pressures today, I would emphasize on the intimate human relationships more, and tell their stories "close up." Mira follows the traditions of other master filmmakers from India, such as Satyajit Ray, Buddhadev Dasgupta, or Shyam Benegal.

Andrew Kyle B.

The idea that some actors make other actors better is something I've had the pleasure of experiencing. There's a woman I've worked with multiple times, she's a terrific actor, and she brings an energy and spirit onto the set that simply elevates everyone (including me and the rest of the crew). She's just one of those people who has an infectious sort of energy.

Mia S.

"Never apologize, but find a way. In 'Monsoon Wedding,' we lost four days of a 30 day shoot to x-ray damage. The negative was being sent out of the country and it went through an x-ray and it fogged four days, practically 20% of a shoot. So instead of sort of giving up, I decided to return to New York and make the rough cut happen and in the process,apply for an insurance claim for the four days of shooting that we lost. The insurance company said, 'It's cheaper for you to go back to India and re-shoot these scenes than for us to fix them (because we can't).' And then I finished the whole rough cut - decided that we needed rain in a number of other places, so that when we went back to India, I basically plastered those scenes with rain that the insurance company was paying for,because they would have now given me rain machines... A massive, two-acre rain machine situation, and it's awesome - the banyon tree just bathing with rain, and then it's the classic sort of romantic interlude that we, in India - you rarely get a place that you can be private with your lover. And cars are the place, and it just had all the romance and kind of expanse and even mystery and danger as the cops come in, that the rain gave me. But it happened this way. A friend of mine taught me a long time ago about checks and balances in a film; what is worth what? What is the weight of this versus that? I always say, cast the best actors. And sometimes people do spend a lot of money on just a name that might help them, and that might help them, because for instance, I've always longed - since I was 18 years old - to work with Naseeruddin Shah, I love him as an actor. The entire tent pole of 'Monsoon Wedding' was based on him being the family patriarch. So once Naseer said yes to me, I cast everyone around him to support him as the father of the family. So it's not that you should not go for famous or great actors, of course you must - but how much will that give you? In this case, he's the center, so it gives you everything. And if you cast an actor that raises the bar of other actors, that's key. It helps so much, and it's imperceptible - you don't know how much it's going to help you - but it helps a lot, to bring an actor that everyone else is improved by in a sense. But sometimes - especially when you're starting out - people spend a lot of money on a small role, on an actor just because you want a recognizable name. I would not suggest that because the holistic picture is the responsibility of the director; everything has to work, not just one thing that you have."